Oil spill: Is Gulf safe for swimming?

PNJ.com

The Escambia County Health Department lifted a health advisory on Pensacola Beach on Friday on the advice of a beach official and against the advice of a federal environmental official.

But the advisory was not lifted for Gulf Islands National Seashore’s Fort Pickens beach, immediately west of Pensacola Beach or Johnson Beach on Perdido Key.

And hours after the Pensacola Beach advisory was lifted, the health department asked for state approval to issue an oil-impact advisory that leaves the decision to swim in the Gulf of Mexico up to the discretion of individual beachgoers.

The signs would be posted on 41 of the 43 miles of Escambia County beaches — from the Florida-Alabama line to just west of Portofino Beach — impacted by oil.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency plans to put decontamination stations along the beach, possibly as early as this weekend.

These moves send conflicting signals about how safe it is to swim in the Gulf of Mexico as the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill broadens.

Dr. John Lanza, director of Escambia County Health Department, said the reason for leaving the decision up to beachgoers on whether to swim is because the oil situation on the beach is “very dynamic.”

“We have a situation that changes from one hour to the next, from one tide to the next, from wave to wave, from one wind direction to another,” he said.

Lanza said this ever-changing environment is something “we’re going to face for weeks or months in the future.”

The oil impact signs would be posted indefinitely and warn beachgoers that oil has washed up on the beaches. But the impact advisory would not prohibit people from going swimming as the health advisory for Pensacola Beach issued from Wednesday to Friday morning did.

Similar to the health advisory, the impact advisory would warn beachgoers to avoid touching oily product on the beach and in the water, and it would advise them leaving the beach and seeking medical help if they experience respiratory problems.

So far, 400 people have sought medical care for upper or lower respiratory problems, headaches, nausea, and eye irritation after trips to Escambia County beaches, Lanza said.

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